Israel can refer to two different but related concepts: the modern state of Israel, and the divinely mandated promised land of the Jewish people. According to the Hebrew Bible, God promised the land of Israel to the descendants of Abraham through his son Isaac—the Jewish people. From the tradition’s earliest days, Judaism has maintained a special reverence for Eretz Yisrael (Hebrew for the Land of Israel), always keeping the memory of the promised land alive throughout the Diaspora. When the political movement known as Zionism began calling for the establishment of a sovereign Jewish state in the nineteenth century, its proponents used the religious idea of the Jews’ promised land to rally support for creating such a state in the same region where the biblical Kingdom of Israel had existed. In 1948, the Zionist movement succeeded in creating the state of Israel, the world’s only Jewish-majority country.
The relationship between Eretz Yisrael—the Jews’ God-given promised land—and the modern state of Israel is controversial. Conservative and Reform Judaism tend to equate the two, viewing today’s nation-state as a fulfillment of God’s covenant with the Jewish people. Some elements of Orthodox Judaism, particularly a portion of Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) Jews, reject the notion that the modern Israeli state represents the biblical Eretz Yisrael, claiming that Zionism has violated halakha, which, according to one interpretation of a controversial passage in the Talmud, forbids the re-establishment of a Jewish state. The relationship between the state of Israel and Eretz Yisrael is also a matter of debate outside of Judaism, with pro- and anti-Israel politicians and activists either appealing to the Bible for international support or insisting upon a line between secular and religious claims, respectively.
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